Thousands of Incorrect Violation Notices Sent to SoCal Drivers

Some drivers who receive the FasTrak citations never use the toll lanes

By Joel Grover and Phil Drechsler
|  Tuesday, Nov 26, 2013  |  Updated 3:34 PM PDT
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Larry Levine, of Van Nuys, has received four violations in the mail from Metro, the transit authority, claiming he was driving on the 110 Freeway FasTrak toll lanes without paying the toll. But Levine told NBC4 he has never even been on the 110 Freeway FasTrak lanes. Joel Grover reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2013.

Larry Levine, of Van Nuys, has received four violations in the mail from Metro, the transit authority, claiming he was driving on the 110 Freeway FasTrak toll lanes without paying the toll. But Levine told NBC4 he has never even been on the 110 Freeway FasTrak lanes. Joel Grover reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Nov. 25, 2013.

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Thousands of Southern Californians have received notices for traffic violations they did not commit, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has discovered.

Larry Levine, of Van Nuys, has received four violations in the mail from Metro, the transit authority, claiming he was driving on the 110 Freeway FasTrak toll lanes without paying the toll. But Levine told NBC4 he has never even been on the 110 Freeway FasTrak lanes.

"Never," Levin said. "It's absolutely preposterous. There's obviously a problem somewhere in the system."

After Levine got his fourth bogus violation, he contacted the I-Team, which investigated.  The I-Team found that Metro has mistakenly sent out perhaps thousands of incorrect violations, many to drivers who never use the toll lanes. The Orange County Transit Authority says its also sent out incorrect violations.

There are FasTrak toll lanes on the 110, 10 and 91 freeways, that allow drivers to glide past heavy traffic. To use the lanes, drivers must pay $40 to get a transponder for their cars, which records tolls that are then charged to an account.

Metro's traffic cameras snap images of every vehicle in the Fastrak lanes -- those without the transponder receive citations in the mail.  But some who receive the citations never drive on the lanes.

Metro official Kathleen McCune said the problem appears to be that the freeways cameras occasionally make mistakes.

"Could be a misread of the plate," McCune said.

For example, McCune said the freeway cameras might mistakenly misread an "E" as an "F" or a "B" as an "8," and therefore send out a violation notice to the wrong driver.

"It could be mud on the plate, it could be dirty," McCune told NBC4.

One citation addressed to Larry Levine, who drives a white Acura, had his license plate on it, but a picture of a Metro bus. Another citation he received had a picture of a Ford Explorer SUV.

But Metro couldn"t explain another citation Levine got, picturing a new BMW with no license plate at all.

When asked how the camera can misread a plate when no plate is on the vehicle, McCune said, "I don't have an answer for you. I really don't. I mean, that's a mistake and we would like to correct it."

The NBC4 I-Team spoke with Tom Rubin, a former top Metro official who is now a private consultant. Rubin said he believes Metro mails out bogus violations "very frequently. But they should be caught in the review process, and obviously, the review process needs some work."

Metro said 1,700 drivers have contested Fastrak citations since the lanes went into operation one year ago and it has dismissed all 1,700 because it knows there are problems with its system.

So what do you do if you think you got one of these bogus violations in the mail?  Metro said you should contest it. There are directions on the back of the violation notice how to do that.
 

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